Asia's elite marksmen set their sights
The push to be crowned AFC Champions League royalty will continue when the Round of 16 takes place next Tuesday and Wednesday. Meanwhile an equally intriguing and keenly contested competition is being fought as the battle to be the continent’s top goalscorer intensifies.
In the inaugural tournament eight years ago, Chinese scoring legend Hao Haidong captured the individual prize with nine goals. This was a record which would be equaled in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 editions, before it was finally broken in 2009 by Gamba Osaka's Brazilian marksman Leandro, who set a new benchmark with ten goals. Suwon Bluewings' Jose Mota fell narrowly short last year with nine goals.
This year's contest appears set to once again provide a captivating sub-plot to the competition proper. Suwon’s Ha Tae-Goon leads the charge with six goals after the group phase, however a host of contenders are on his heels. Join FIFA.com as we take a look at the hopefuls seeking the title of Asia’s most prolific marksman.
On-song K-League quartet
Current top-scorer Ha is undoubtedly among the players to watch given his goal return in the Asian arena this year, including a hat-trick against Shanghai Shenhua. The 23-year-old impressed in his debut season four years ago when he won the K-League Rookie of the Year award. But he made little progress over the following years, adding just a couple of goals to his tally. Remarkably he has yet to open his domestic account this term.
Despite trailing Ha by two goals, FC Seoul's Dejan Damjanovic boasts a more consistent scoring rate, hitting 73 goals in 139 games. The Montenegrin striker was instrumental in helping his side progress as group winners, netting four times, including a brace in the 3-0 home victory over Al Ain.
Jeonbuk Motors’ experienced striker Lee Dong-Gook has proven a reliable goal-getter for both club and country. Despite flourishing this season, with three goals in the Champions League and eight domestically, injury means he is likely to miss the one-off Round of 16 clash against Tianjin Teda, in what has been a recurring theme in the 32-year-old’s career.
In his absence Jeonbuk can turn to supersub Krunoslav Lovrek, who also has hit three continental goals during the group campaign. The Croatian proved his predatory talents in his debut season with Jeonbuk last year, scoring a hat-trick in their 4-1 defeat at Persipura Jayapura, as well as 13 goals in 30 K-League appearances.
Saudi League duo in flying form
A seasoned campaigner on the continental front, Al Hilal’s Yasser Al Qahtani is invariably among the favourites for the top-scorer awards. Having ranked third in last year’s scoring chart with five goals, the Saudi has maintained his prolific form this season with another four strikes. Inspired by their recent title-defense in the Saudi league, where he bagged eleven goals as Al Hilal retained the championship, Al Qahtani will be aiming to secure the club’s first Champions League crown.
Kuwaiti striker Bader Al Mutwa has announced his arrival at this level with impressive displays for Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, where he is on loan from hometown club Al Qadsia. The 26-year-old has claimed four of Al Nassr’s ten strikes, including bagging the decisive goal against Esteghlal to secure progression on goal difference at the Iranians’ expense.
Also impressing with their scoring flair are the Cerezo Osaka duo of Takashi Inui and Rodrigo Pimpao, who bagged four goals each as their side took the section’s second qualifying spot in their debut Asian appearance. Their scoring form will be key if Cerezo are to get the better of former champions and city rivals Gamba in a potentially epic tie on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, Senegalese forward Ibrahima Toure has been running riot this season as Sepahan retained the Iranian league title, and also won their Champions League group ahead of the formidable Al Hilal. With 18 goals on the domestic front and four in Asian competition, Toure has the credentials to claim the continent’s elite goalscoring award, provided Sepahan can maintain their domestic form on a grander stage.